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Diana Warwick leads Lords debate on widening participation


Diana Warwick, Chief Executive of Universities UK, on May 1, spearheaded a debate in the House of Lords on widening participation.

In it, she highlighted emerging findings from a pilot study which reveal the real costs per student to higher education institutions of widening participation to be some 35% higher than the average funding per student within the English funding council's current formula. The costs to the universities counted by the study is much greater than the additional revenues provided through the current formula for widening participation funding.

Diana Warwick said: "There is now recognition in all quarters that to recruit, retain and transfer non-traditional students effectively into work or further study means additional costs. These costs make up a significant part of the total bill for the next three years of almost 10 billion which we have submitted to the Government. The access premium and the way in which it targets resources, is a critical driver of change.

"We need Government to invest, and as our submission to the Spending Review
makes clear - it's investment for success - not only for success in reaching the 50% target by 2010, or for success in widening participation, but investing to ensure the future success of an increasingly diverse student population."

Note for editors:

1. The pilot study is based on two institutions and has not yet been finalised. The aim of the study was to develop a methodology which could apply to the whole sector and which could then deliver indicative costings. It is expected that it will result in improved information on the actual costs of supporting students from non-traditional backgrounds. The pilot study suggests that these are likely to be substantially higher than the 20% recommended by the Education and Employment Select Committee, and the level of additional funding required could be in the order of 35%.

2. The study, commissioned by HEFCE and Universities UK, will show that the average additional costs of supporting students from non-traditional backgrounds is approximately 1,500 for the universities used for the study. This suggests a cost premium for institutions of roughly 35% - much higher than the 20% recommended by the Education and Employment Select Committee last year. The current premium using the HEFCE T formula goes up to a maximum of 10% in respect of students from the most under-represented groups.

Text of speech follows:

Speech by Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe
To call attention to the work of universities in widening participation as set out in Universities UK's report 'Social class and participation in higher education'
House of Lords Debate, 1 May 2002



My Lords, in introducing this debate, I want to bring to the attention of the House the wonderful work being done by universities across the UK to widen participation. In doing so, I should declare an interest as Chief Executive of Universities UK.

In many ways, this debate follows up on several of the issues which the Noble Lord, Lord Dearing raised in his debate last week and in which I was, unfortunately, unable to speak. I do hope you'll forgive me in seeking to give higher education a second bite of the cherry so soon afterwards!

Like the Noble Lord, I want to welcome the words of my Rt Hon. Friend, the Chancellor from his Budget speech two weeks ago. I think he acknowledged the need for investment in higher education! Universities UK hopes that when he announces the results of his spending review in July, he will follow up on his commitment with hard cash.

One specific area, in which I know the Chancellor takes a keen interest, and which is one of the top 10 priorities for the Government in its second term, is widening participation. I want to talk today about the vital work done on this by universities. It is highlighted in Universities UK's recently published report, Social Class and Participation in Higher Education.

For both this report and its 1998 predecessor, From Elitism to Inclusion, we are indebted to Professor Maggie Woodrow and others. Professor Woodrow was a tireless campaigner for widening participation until her untimely death in October last year.

So what does the report do? It identifies good practice and evaluates the strategies of both the higher education sector and the Government in widening participation.

It provides hard evidence on what works best to successfully increase participation among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

And by drawing on 23 case studies, such as the Partners Programme at the University of Newcastle, the report shows how targeted initiatives by individual institutions are contributing to the social inclusion agenda, Nine of these studies are entirely new, and some concentrate for the first time on high demand subject areas such as medicine and the creative arts.

Every university and HE college in the UK, without exception, is working hard to widen participation. My Lords, we should be proud of this hard work. They have employed not just lone individuals but teams of staff dedicated to this work. It's not done as an afterthought, but is a mainstream activity in all institutions.

Let me spend a few minutes saying why. For too long, not all those who could benefit from a university education have had the chance to go to university. This has been a tremendous waste of talent. This lack of opportunity has prevented both the individuals concerned from realising their full potential, and the nation from tapping into that potential. As one of the academics at the launch event for our publication, herself involved in a scheme in inner London, said: our report is "a celebration of unlocking the potential of many people who would not traditionally have accessed higher education."

It is illuminating to look at some specific illustrations of what higher education institutions are doing.

Nottingham Trent University has developed Progression Partnerships - a programme that featured in the first report. And I am happy to say that its combination of compacts with local schools and support programmes in the Nottingham area has led to a demonstrable increase in recruitment from those same schools.

The Guy's, King's and St Thomas's School of Medicine is working to widen access to medical courses, an area where access for students from less affluent backgrounds has, in the past, been low. The School has liaised closely with local schools in South London; it has provided summer courses for new students; developed new course structures; and provided support to students.

And this work is not just confined to England, although in other parts of the UK, responsibility for activities in this area is now devolved. For example, the Glasgow School of Art is aiming to increase by 10 per cent the number of students from non-traditional backgrounds that it recruits to study art, an area often perceived as a very "middle class" pursuit.

Universities are also working to ensure that the courses they offer are relevant and exciting to students - which is vital if we are to persuade potential students that they have something to gain from university. I would urge Noble Lords not to underestimate the huge transformation in what employers, the professions and students make clear that they want from universities.

One good example is the degree in Surf Science and Technology at Plymouth
University, which is meeting the needs from local business - it enjoys sponsorship from industry to prove it - and produces graduates with knowledge of areas as diverse as oceanic science; materials technology; and business studies.

I use this very modern example deliberately, my Lords, because it is precisely this sort of degree which is derided those who hanker after some mythical golden past because it sounds untraditional. Yet it is rigorously academically assessed, attracts excellent students, and fulfils a clear need.

To return to the report, my Lords, one important point it makes clear is that the goal of widening participation and of increasing participation are not necessarily one and the same thing. As the Government has, itself, made clear, it is not enough simply to increase the number of students entering higher education, although, in fact, it would be possible to achieve the target by attracting more people from the same sort of background as now. But we also have to target more of those from less affluent backgrounds - people who have not before believed that university was the right option for them.

What the report also makes clear is that the existing mechanisms for student support are in need of review, a fact that the Prime Minster quite rightly recognised in his party conference speech last year and I am glad to say acted upon by setting up the current review. I hope that the results of that review will be known soon and that it clearly targets support where it is needed - at those who are the focus of these case studies.

I believe another area on which all can agree is in recognising that the key to widening participation lies in motivating and inspiring young people in our schools. That's why so many of our institutions have compact agreements and other close links with schools in their area. For example, the Government's Aim Higher campaign is an excellent initiative. It brings together schools and universities to motivate and inspire young people to think about the benefits of going to university. The battle we have is in schools - to win the hearts and minds of our young people.

However - and, my Lords, you will have come to expect me to say this - there's no such thing as a free lunch!

Widening participation costs money. All these efforts are likely to produce at least 30,000 extra students each and every year. The 17,000 extra members of staff needed to teach the additional students must be paid. A report to be published next week by the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association will set out the stark costs of staff recruitment and retention in higher education.

And there is now recognition in all quarters that to recruit, retain and transfer non-traditional students effectively into work or further study means additional costs. These costs make up a significant part of the total bid for the next three years of almost 10 billion which we have submitted to the Government in this spending round.

My Lords, let me give you one example. The Access Premium and the way in which it targets resources, is a critical driver of change. We've argued in our submission to the Government's Spending Review that this should be increased to at least 20%. In fact, the results of a pilot study by Universities UK and HEFCE into the real costs of widening access are due to be published soon. Emerging results from that report show that the extra costs of widening access are actually in the region of 1,500 per student for the two institutions featured. This is a premium for them of roughly 35%
compared to the 20% figure, which was recommended in a report last year by the Education and Employment Select Committee in another place.

Of course, what is also of concern to all universities is ensuring that our students, whatever their background, have a high quality experience at university. And that requires university teaching to be informed by research, provided by high quality and motivated staff, in buildings fit for purpose, and using equipment comparable to their eventual workplace. We would not want to encourage more students from less well off backgrounds to enter HE only for them to be deprived of a first class education when they got there.

In all these areas we need Government to invest, and as our submission to the Spending Review makes clear - it's investment for success - not only for success in reaching the 50% target by 2010, or for success in widening participation, but investing to ensure the future success of an increasingly diverse student population.
What we're trying to do is to reach out to those who in the past have not had a
chance to benefit from higher education. As the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget said in the last century: "The principal goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done." It is vital that we do not make the mistake of earlier generations of failing to harness the full potential of all those who could benefit from going to university.

And this investment will be worth it. The engagement of these students with the world as socially-responsible, economically active, and enthusiastic members of society will result in no less than the continued success of our civilised and knowledge based democracy.




Vivien Paulson-Ellis
Press and PR Officer
Universities UK
Woburn House
20 Tavistock Square
London
WC1H 9HQ
Telephone: 020 7419 5407

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Last updated: 13 February 2002 10:55
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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